Sitcoms have been existing forever at this point, and a fresh take on them in the form of a style of narration is practically not expected. Fresher jokes, warmer ensembles, more intriguing premises, darker scenarios, more awkward characters, and politically charged comedy do still make their way into comedies, and keep the genre unique as ever. However, an absolute deconstruction, almost like a war on the principles of characterisation in sitcoms, is not something I was prepared for. Without any attempts to cloak its intentions, Kevin Can F**k Himself goes about questioning the basis of designing absurdly well-adjusted characters.
It starts off with the all-too-familiar scenario, a family in the drawing room with some eye-roll worthy shenanigans going on among two guys who are possibly the central characters. In walks the man’s wife, and is made the butt of at least two rather insensitive jokes which she takes in her stride, assisted by the laugh track. You might be wondering, especially if you’re not necessarily a fan of the laugh-track sitcoms from the 80s and 90s, about whether this is even worth your while. Just then, the annoying laugh track becomes genuinely annoying, and the sound resembles that inside the head right before a breakdown.
Simultaneously, the colour palette shifts to a much more realistic and gritty one. The inexplicable brightness associated with the comedy world of the aforementioned times vanishes, to introduce you to the world of Allison McRoberts. It’s much darker in colours, and the lighting is less than sincere. Amidst the sinister look, you find the well-adjusted housewife from before, hyperventilating. But she’s a sitcom housewife, the character expected to take the jokes made at her expense in her stride. And yet she’s clearly affected, trying to cope by imagining her own version of well-adjusted.
Just like that, a brilliant trope is established. This is going to contrast harsh reality with sitcom version, and quite conspicuously deconstruct the works from the genre. This could go one of two ways. Either the lack of tact would make the content overboard, or it would be very effective in breaking down the sitcom genre. Thankfully, it goes the second way. At every step of the way you become self-conscious about the jokes the laugh track promotes – jokes that you would have been laughing at under regular circumstances. Kevin Can F**k Himself‘s choice to not cloak its intentions has worked favourably for it.
The dialogue is beautifully balanced, juxtaposing the almost-obnoxious sitcom humour with the dry, witty dark humour of the other world. The writing smacks of intent, and the use of the narrative device is a truly interesting aspect to explore. Plus, there are many rather memorable lines about anxiety, dysfunction and helplessness. The conversations that openly challenge prevalent conditions, exploring the depraved truth hiding behind well-adjusted made-for-TV functional marriages, are incredibly well-crafted.
Then there’s the characterisation. Given that its aim is to humanise the over-the-top stable people from sitcoms, characterisation is the primary focus of the story. This story is character-driven, and the motivations are well personalised through intimate interactions. Allison herself is extremely compelling and you’ll be invested in her mission in no time. The drastic plot of the tale is the perfect premise to challenge sitcoms, because it is pretty fantastic in itself and helps establish the fact that the fictional element is not what’s out of place in over-the-top laugh-track-accompanied comedies.
Annie Murphy does a brilliant job as the protagonist. This was the perfect stage to showcase her talent and she makes full use of the opportunity. Her character is the one that primarily conveys the contrast and the way in which she shifts between genres, is uncanny at times. The best part about her character is how the personality doesn’t change even outside the sitcom universe. She’s still the hardworking wife, who is overtly optimistic and definitely witty, with the ability to take things in her stride. She’s just less of a pushover, and she’s unapologetically controlling. Her optimism is more directional, and she’s definitely dysfunctional, but at the core of it all, she’s the same person.
The show has a lot of other virtues, like the editing, which perfectly blends the two genres, which are so visually distinct. Then there’s the cinematography itself, with the comedy side always using a single camera to mimic the classic style of sitcoms, and the other one using multiple cameras, angles and close-ups to help make the story even more personable. The performances by the rest of the cast are highly memorable too, plus the supporting character of Patty O’Connor is a beautifully created persona. Mary Hollis Inboden gives life to her, and her sweet but cynical demeanour, makes her highly endearing.
Kevin Can F**k Himself is not without its flaws – taking itself too seriously at points. However, it is an absolute must-watch. This is what experimental content is supposed to be like, and the vision and the honest attempt to bring it to the audience itself makes this a work of art. Its flaws are all excusable because of the refreshing nature and the obvious attempt to create something so unique in a genre where almost everything has been overdone by now. The show deserves loads of acclaim for what it’s achieved, and I for one, am super pumped for what’s to come in the next season.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.